Social housing serves as a valuable tool in restructuring urban areas and creat- ing a socially and economically integrated society, says Centre for Municipal Research and Advice (CMRA) human settle- ments project manager and adviser to the South African Local Government Association (Salga) Michelle Essink.
Social housing, which is a form of rental housing, forms a small part of the housing sector, with less than 10% of houses in South Africa being rented out.
“Many people are still living in improper houses. Government has recognised this and has introduced several policies to tackle this challenge. One of the approaches is investing in rental housing,” she adds.
For this purpose, a memorandum of agreement has been signed by the Dutch Ministry of Housing and the South African Department of Human Settlements (DHS). In terms of the agreement, a number of organisations have been appointed to undertake implementation and capacity building in this sector.
These include Salga and VNG, which is the Association of Netherlands Municipalities and its subsidiary companies, VNG International and CMRA.
VNG International, in cooperation with Salga, is currently implementing two housing programmes in South Africa, the Social Housing Support Programme (SHSP) and the Logo South Country Programme South Africa, which focuses on capacity building in local government.
Under the SHSP, 13 municipalities were identified by the DHS as sites for the implementation and improvement of social housing in line with the specifications of the Social Housing Act No 16 of 2008.
The municipalities were selected according to their level of urbanisation and include Tshwane, Johannesburg, Ekurhuleni, the City of Cape Town, Nelson Mandela Bay and eThekwini.
“The partners work closely with the National Association of Social Housing Organisations to improve the working relationship between municipalities and social housing institutions to improve social housing,” Essink says.
The Logo South Country Pro- gramme South Africa is being implemented by VNG Interna- tional in cooperation with Salga and is aimed at municipalities that have twinning relationships with Dutch municipalities.
Essink explains many of the twinning relationships are based on historical partnerships and were formed during the apartheid era between certain Dutch munici- palities and South African anti-apartheid organisations.
The programme is based on the exchange of knowledge and expertise.
“Activities are organised for the Dutch and South African municipalities to exchange knowledge on a colleague-to-colleague basis.”
There are currently ten local municipalities that have relationships with Dutch municipalities, including Mamelodi township as part of the winning relationship with the City of Tshwane.
Essink, who is the coordinator of Logo South Country Pro-gramme South Africa, says an extensive evaluation of the programme in 2009 concluded that it was one of the most efficient and cost-effective development aid programmes.
“We have been seeing visible results in terms of housing development over the last few years,” she adds.
In 2010, two benchmark cycles were undertaken in these programmes in the field of housing – one on social housing (applicable in the 13 munici- palities that have been selected for the implementation of social housing), the other on housing, in general. The benchmarks were implemented by the CMRA.
Benchmarks enable municipalities to compare themselves to and learn from other municipalities. By analysing comparable results and experiences, it becomes clear what the achievements and challenges are compared with other municipalities. Municipalities can learn from their peers and improve their service delivery.
In the final project report, the CMRA stated that many metros and local municipalities lacked detailed knowledge of the demand for housing in their areas of jurisdiction, which impaired their ability to facilitate the implementation of social/rental housing.
Most of the municipalities were not able to provide information on the amount of social/rental housing and other subsidies that have been used in their areas of jurisdiction over the past three years.
Although an inadequate amount of demographic data was available within the municipalities, it was found that municipalities did have a good overview of the demand for housing according to income group and the preferred location of housing.
“The benchmark has provided insight into the current status of social/rental housing in these municipalities. With these insights and the recommendations that they received from Salga and the CMRA, municipalities can improve their performance,” Essink says.
Essink adds that subjects in the questionnaire that proved problematic were highlighted in the learning meetings and explained in more detail. “This form of peer learning is one of the essential benefits of the benchmarking process,” she notes.
Based on the results of the two benchmark cycles, a good practice brochure, ‘Benchmarking Housing in South Africa. Good Practices in Municipal Housing’, was developed. This brochure described some of the good practices that were identified in the benchmark cycles and has been distributed to all South African municipalities.
A follow-up benchmarking project for housing started in May 2011, while a second project for social housing is expected to start in August 2011.
Essink says the new benchmark tools go into more detail on subjects that were problematic in the first benchmarking projects, including public participation, data collection and councillors’ roles.
The CMRA and Salga are also implementing a number of other benchmarking projects in fields such as HIV/Aids, public participation and local economic development. Later in 2011, the CMRA also intends to establish another housing benchmark cycle.
Municipalities that are interested can sign up for the new benchmarks; however, in most cases, cofunding will be needed.
“Our aim is to do benchmarking on an increasingly regular basis and get more municipalities to participate so that they can build their capacity and improve,” Essink adds.
Further, Salga and the CMRA offer support to municipalities under the SHSP and Logo South Country Programme South Africa. This includes support to councillors through capacity building.
Through a one-day workshop, councillors are educated in the different forms of rental housing, their role, as well as the role of the municipality in the delivery of rental housing.
“This was done last year and rated very successful by the councils and will be repeated this year with the newly elected councillors,” Essink says.
She feels that slow change within government poses a significant challenge.
“Salga takes up issues that are reported by the municipalities and lobby at national level to have these dealt with. However, it takes a long time to get changes through government, owing to the lengthy procedures.”
Further, she says housing remains a hurdle in municipalities, as it is not an official municipal responsibility.
According to the Constitution, housing falls under the jurisdiction of provincial and national government. However, although local municipalities do not have the financial mandate for housing, they are responsible for the identification and designation of land for housing projects and for creating an enabling environment for the delivery of housing.
“This results in a struggle between provincial government and municipalities about who carries what responsibility. But, we believe, if this is overcome, the future of housing in South Africa looks promising,” she concludes.